While some people’s expectations for “Mama” are high, I tried not to let my expectations get too high. Why? Well, mostly because I still remember the last Guillermo del Toro movie I saw “Don't Be Afraid of the Dark." Lets just say I wasn’t impressed. His movies are usually well done, but they just seem to come up short of my expectations. So did Guillermo del Toro come up short again?
The title might be “Mama,” but it’s Papa that gets this story started. He suffers some kind of emotional breakdown, kills some of his fellow co-workers and wife, and tries to run away with his two daughters, Victoria (Megan Charpentier), and Lilly (Isabelle Nelisse). He accidentally drives the car off the side of a mountain, but luckily everyone survives. Soon after, they find shelter in a small cabin in the woods. Unknown to them, something already has taken shelter there, and will later follow the girls back to civilization.
Audiences will clearly see a Guillermo del Toro style movie, in particular an intriguing story about children, and the presence of a supernatural creature. Victoria and Lilly are 3 and 1 year old respectively when they are left in the cabin. They spend 5 years in the cabin developing some almost animal like behavior before they are rescued. From there, the audience gets to see them try to get some normalcy back into their lives, while Mama mysteriously lurks in the shadows. As expected, this comes easier for Victoria, and remains a constant challenge for Lilly.
The girls have their struggles, but so do their new guardians, uncle Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), and his girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain). While their uncle loves them unconditionally, it’s Annabel who is just a woman in a rock band that has her own growing up to do. She isn’t sure she will ever grow to love the girls, and makes it clear she doesn’t want to be their mother. However, her feelings change as circumstances change setting her up in an unexpected, yet welcomed battle with Mama for the girls hearts.
Jessica does a wonderful job showing how Annabel goes through her transformation. Not only the transformation, but also she does a great job when it comes time for Annabel to be fearful of Mama. Nikolaj gives a decent performance, but it’s Megan and Lilly’s performances that could really make or break the movie. They are able to handle everything they are asked to, and each does it in different ways. They definitely will get the audience to care for these characters.
Now to what I’m sure you want to know, is the movie scary, in particular Mama? Yes, and no. The first appearance by Mama is pretty creepy, and just the mere fact that she can appear at any moment keeps the tension high. There are a few scares early, but it’s more about her freaky appearance than the scares. As the audience gets to see more and more of her, the fear factor begins to drop. What’s really scary is what she’s truly after, and partially succeeds at.
Going back to the children, they also provide some scares, and certainly unusual moments. One of the weirdest things they do is crawl around on all fours. While being over seen by Dr. Dreyfuss (Daniel Kash) at his facility, there is a good early display of their bizarre behavior in a staged setting. As mentioned, Victoria starts to grow out of her animal like habits, but Lilly doesn’t. Besides crawling around, she insists on sleeping under the bed, hisses, and just the overall way she tries to talk is strange. Probably the scariest moments come when the girls are playing with Mama. The movie also tries to scare audiences with some random dreams. I’m not sure they fit the movie, and kind of remind me of the teasers for American Horror Story Asylum.
While the girl’s story is interesting, and touching, the movie does make some minor mistakes. In one scene, Annabel is trying to put the girls to sleep, but the light coming from the window makes it appear as if it’s daytime. Lucas has one of those dreams that later leads him to a bridge. The audience might expect that to lead him to finding an important part of the puzzle, but it’s rather pointless. Not to mention a call between Lucas and Annabel where he tells her he will be home in a day, but it appears much more time has gone by.
The children’s story is fascinating, and heartbreaking. The way they tie in Annabel’s relationship with the children vs. Mama’s relationship with them is also an interesting side story. The acting is solid all around, including the pair of young actors. The scares, and creepiness start off well, but kind of loses its effectiveness as the movie goes on. In the end, “Mama” is certainly better than “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.” I wouldn’t say Guillermo comes up short, however I still feel there is something missing to make me completely satisfied. Nevertheless, I think “Mama” is worthy of 3 pools of blood.